Given the backdrop of a global pandemic, last Thursday the board here at 111 East Chestnut Condominiums underscored their priorities and approved the single highest fine in the Association’s history. Upon motion by board president Jane Santogrossi, $2,000 was approved to be levied against Unit 41G for “reckless dumping of water from the window of the Unit by a tenant.” TRANSLATION: The board has just made an example of an eighty-three year old lady, Meryl Goldfarb.
EVENTS LEADING UP TO THE INCIDENT
On March 2, Sudler property manager, Sara Rudnik, announced the resumption of the Facade Cement Repair Project. Shortly thereafter, COVID-19 hit Illinois. And on March 20 Illinois Governor Pritzker and Mayor Lightfoot jointly issued shelter-in-place orders.
Despite the gravity of COVID-19, despite the fact that the hundreds of 111 residents were/are cooped-up in virtual cement drums, management and the board pressed on with a project, a project Rudnik warned would be very “noisy” and “dusty.” That’s jack hammering whose deafening sound can be between 100 to 120 db. And that’s the known carcinogen, crystalline silica dust, i,e. “the new asbestos,” the same dust that culminated in the contractor, Quality Restoration, being fined by the City’s Department Public Health last February.
On April 2, about four weeks ago, while the contractors were working a drop on the West facade, silica dust was noticeably seeping into the Goldbarb’s rental, 41G. Considering the shelter-in-place order and seniors’ particular life-threatening vulnerability to the pandemic, Meryl Goldfarb immediately called management and asked them to stop temporarily, i.e. just until she “could call her husband Jerry’s doctor for advice.” Eighty-seven year old Jerry Goldfarb is a liver-transplant survivor, Northwestern Hospital’s first liver transplant. Jerry is severely immune-compromised.
True to form, management summarily refused her request. Meryl then called the City who told her that the contractors should be using water to control the dust. So a panicked Meryl proceeded to pour water out her window in an attempt to ameliorate the dust herself.
According to Meryl, the water was from a bottle of Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water. She said: “And it worked! The workers and the dust stopped. No harm done.”
On April 24, the board was asked in writing how it arrived at $2,000. To date, they’ve not responded. It surely appears they’ve exceeded their authority. And it appears the fine could expose the Association to yet another lawsuit. Simply stated, the board does not have the authority to just make stuff up. Their authority is limited to the docs.
1. “Reckless dumping of water from the window of the Unit by a tenant” does not appear anywhere in the Association’s Rules & Regs. There’s nothing even close; and
2. The amount is capricious at best. There’s no basis. It’s twice as high as any fine ever issued here. The amount is not listed in our governing docs, i.e. FINES and FEES and VIOLATIONS.
Beyond that, and more troubling, is that the board’s focus on fining an octogenarian smacks of gross ageism. The board and management historically has been fairly lax regarding rule enforcement. But at the May 23, 2019 board meeting, Santrogrossi revealed her bias: “We are not equipped to be a building where people age in place. We have recent experiences that would suggest that it would be a heavy heavy burden.”
Bottom line: Meryl’s use of water was totally harmless. And given that the elderly have been among the hardest hit by COVID-19, Meryl’s fear was very real, and her response reasonable.
This situation is NOT representative of the members of 111 East Chestnut Condominium Association. Of all the capricious abuse-of-power condo boards are known for, picking on a frightened old lady during a global pandemic takes the cake. It’s an embarrassment. It’s bully cowardice. It’s sick. Making an example of an old lady… The board and Sudler should be ashamed of themselves.
But they’re not. Just listen to Jane’s insolent cackle.
According to Meryl, management has also taken the handles off the Goldfarb’s windows.
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UPDATE 5/1/20: Management reinstalled the Unit window handles.
Also of note, the Los Angeles Times, “The pandemic has amplified ageism. ‘It’s open season for discrimination’ against older adults“.
UPDATE 5/8/20: Board President, Jane Santogrossi commented on this situation on Nexdoor.com: “Boards must announce actual fines so that homeowners know the types of things that might lead to a fine and that bad behavior is in fact being discouraged.”
Also note, moments ago the 111 East Chestnut Board announced that “The concrete facade project will recommence the week of May 11.” Jack hammering will resume June 1. No mention of any additional effort for toxic dust mitigation.
Emphasized in the announcement: “Throwing anything out a window puts workmen in danger and can cause them serious harm or death.” So besides the fact that a fine against Unit 41G is NOT articulated in the Association’s Rules & Regs, making an example of an 83-year old lady defending her husband (with a little water), was totally in the hypothetical. Simply stated: Jane had an agenda.